NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restoring Consumer Sovereignty in School Choice

January 27, 2004

Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast tout the role of vouchers in the fight to break entrenched government monopolization of schools in their new book, "Education And Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear Of Markets And Economics Can Improve America's Schools."

By restoring parental school choice, the authors believe K-12 education will be revitalized through competition and privatization. -- through what economists call "consumer sovereignty."

  • The authors trace vouchers back to 1955, when Milton Friedman sprung the concept in an article and later expanded it into a chapter in his classic "Capitalism and Freedom" in 1962.
  • Then Friedman declared government funding and operation of K-12 schools -- presently involving some 50 million U.S. schoolchildren -- as an "indiscriminate extension of governmental responsibility."
  • Privatization got a big boost in 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of Cleveland vouchers in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris; it was, say the authors, "a historic victory for parents and defeat for the unions."

The authors devote much space to the question of what capitalism is and whether it can be trusted. Yes it can, they say, sharply defining economics and capitalism. The authors also explain the public choice theory for which George Mason University economist James Buchanan won the Nobel Prize. Buchanan saw how self-interest often underlies the "public interest" loudly professed by legislators, bureaucrats and establishment educators.

Walberg and Bast quote the Cato Institute's executive vice president, David Boaz: "Because education involves teaching children about right and wrong, about what is important in life, it must be controlled by individual families, not by politicians and bureaucrats. No monopoly system can adequately reflect the values of all parents in a diverse society."

Source: William H. Peterson, "Leave no child behind," Washington Times, January 27, 2004; based upon Herbert J. Walberg (Hoover Institution) and Joseph L. Bast (Heartland Institute), "Education And Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear Of Markets And Economics Can Improve America's Schools," Hoover Institution. November 2003.


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